Saturday, September 02, 2006

Why is our money so ugly?

You know what I mean. Usually we handle money without really looking at it, except to make sure it's the right denomination. But a ten happened to catch my eye today as I was putting it back in my wallet. I wondered: What is that mottled, peach-colored stain? And where did those bloodstains come from? The whole thing looks like something pulled, slightly moist and smelling strange, from a medical waste dump (peach-colored definitely being a euphemism for a different word I just can't bear to apply to the dollar, no matter how low it has fallen.)

Think of all the colorful, beautiful currencies in the world. Then think about ours. Granted, we took a shot at adding color. But when it came to beauty, we didn't bother. We more or less threw up our hands and said, "Oh, the hell with it!" We really are a nation of puritans.

Of course, "we" didn't choose the design. But we didn't laugh it out of circulation either, did we?

The Republicans already have used the courts to elect a president. So why not use the courts to retain control of Congress this fall?

Although Democrats have a huge lead in generic polls asking which party the public wants to control Congress, that may not be enough this fall. The great equalizer for the Republicans may be the courts and the Constitution. This possibility has been there all along, when you think about it. After all, if conservative jurists could be used to secure the White House, why not use them to retain control of Congress?

This theoretical possibility became very real earlier this week, when a San Diego judge threw out a recount motion in the Francine Busby-Brian Bilbray race in California's 50th congressional district to fill the seat left vacant by Duke Cunningham, who left for a seat in the big house. (They face off against each other again in November.) You'll recall that Busby lost a close race and was criticized by some in the left blogosphere for having run too centrist a race, for making an issue of competence rather than ideology in the heavily Republican district. But indications of funny business began to appear -- things like voting machines taken home by Republican volunteers, etc. -- and a recount challenge was mounted independently of Busby, who didn't want to be portrayed as a sore loser with another election coming up shortly.

It' show the challenge was thrown out that was the bombshell -- one that did not get nearly the media attention it deserved. Turns out that Bilbray flew to Washington and was sworn into the House even before the vote was certified, which seemed odd at the time. Now we know why. Basically, the judge threw the case out on constitutional grounds. He said he had no jurisdiction because Bilbray had already been sworn in and the Constitution gives each house of Congress jurisdiction over the qualifications of their members. (Article 1, Section 5.)

This is certainly not how Article 1, Section 5 has been interpreted in the past. Is this just a rogue judge going off on some tangent of his own? Or is it part of a carefully orchestrated plan to use friendly courts to back up flawed election procedures and Diebold voting machines in close election?

Almost sounds paranoid to even think such a thing. But, hey, look who's in the White House and how he got there. And it seems a hell of a lot more plausible in light of another court decision highlighted today in The BRAD BLOG, which has done a great job of following this story from the beginning.
Today's Nevada Appeal has an article regarding a court challenge that stemmed from problems in the GOP primary election for Congress. That race between Dean Heller, present Secretary of State, and Sharron Angle, was closely contested and Ms. Angle filed the challenge based on what she thought to be possibly illegal practices in Washoe County.

The judge threw out the case, not on a finding that the practices were not illegal but on a constitutional basis. The judge found that he had no jurisdiction, in part, according to Article 1, Section 5 of the US Constitution.

The pertinent part of Article 1, Section 5 says: "Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members,..." Note the phrase "of its own members".

We learned from Busby-Bilbray that the California Secretary of State's staff almost fell over themselves getting a memo to Denny Hastert to tell him that Bilbray won the election even though the certification of that election, and the final and legal naming of the winner of the election, was days away. That directly led to Bilbray being sworn in and becoming a member or the House of Representatives.

However, in Nevada we have two citizens running in the GOP Congressional primary. Neither of them is a member of congress now. So how, and why, did Article 1, Section 5 of the US Constitution come into play? How can anyone read the Constitution and decide that the people's votes don't matter, the Legislative Branch will make the decision for us?
This is totally crazy. If this decision is allowed to stand, it would clearly pave the way for all sorts of political judge-shopping by the Republicans this fall, cynically distorting the Constitution and using it as a shield.

Are Democrats going to wake up and put a defense in place? Are they going to talk about this possibility as a real threat before the election, so they don't just seem to be whining losers after the fact? Or is this another issue the national Beltway Democrats intend to tiptoe around?

We can't allow that to happen.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Luck of the draw -- life expectancy not as genetically determined as previously thought

People tend to assume their life spans will be roughly the same as those of their parents or other close relatives, but writing in the New York Times, science writer Gina Kolata reports that the latest research suggests this is a myth. Life expectancy is only weakly detemined by one's genes.
Life spans, says James W. Vaupel, who directs the Laboratory of Survival and Longevity at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, are nothing like a trait like height, which is strongly inherited.

“How tall your parents are compared to the average height explains 80 to 90 percent of how tall you are compared to the average person,” Dr. Vaupel said. But “only 3 percent of how long you live compared to the average person can be explained by how long your parents lived.”

“You really learn very little about your own life span from your parents’ life spans,” Dr. Vaupel said. “That’s what the evidence shows. Even twins, identical twins, die at different times.” On average, he said, more than 10 years apart.

The likely reason is that life span is determined by such a complex mix of events that there is no accurate predicting for individuals. The factors include genetic predispositions, disease, nutrition, a woman’s health during pregnancy, subtle injuries and accidents and simply chance events, like a randomly occurring mutation in a gene of a cell that ultimately leads to cancer.
Just how great the influence of those random events can be is illustrated by several examples in the article of people who greatly outlived siblings, parents or other relatives. Some people are just lucky.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Photo tip: If your name is Joe Lieberman don't make a California sunset stand in for a Connecticut sunrise

I'm guessing that what prompted Lieberman campaign spokesperson Dan Gerstein to call this a sunrise in the first place was nothing more complicated than a tendency to shoot from the hip coupled with a reflexive tendency to contradict anything the Lamont camp says. That's what got him in trouble.

Sunrise, sunset -- it originally didn't matter in a TV spot that charitably might have been described as a lame attempt at offbeat campaign humor. It was when the Lamont people started mocking the sunset as the perfect metaphor for Lieberman's career that Gerstein spoke up and the fireworks began.
"It's actually a sunrise," Gerstein said Tuesday. "It's very much a sunrise."
Gerstein's belligerent certainty drove the netroots into a frenzy of research that quickly paid off. Not only was the stock footage not a sunrise, but it wasn't shot in Connecticut, either. Soon, the Lieberman campaign was found guilty not only of fudging the chronology, but the geography as well.
Actually, it's very much a sunset, as pro-Lamont bloggers gleefully pointed out. They even tracked down the video used in the ad on the Getty Images Web page. Clip 843-2: "Wide shot sun setting over ocean/ birds walking along water's edge/ Santa Barbara."
Critics haven't had as much fun with the position of a sunset since the days of the old John Wayne vehicle, "The Green Berets." This whole controversy seems ironic to me, since I myself passed off a sunset as a sunrise in Letter from Here just last Monday. But I offered a full disclosure and pleaded poetic license. And I wasn't struggling to retain my U.S. Senate seat after losing the Democratic primary.

Note to Dan Gerstein: In the future, you might want to avoid making assertions of fact that can easily be falsified with a bit of internet research. The woods are full of volunteer researchers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ben takes on Pentagon with a stack of Oreos

Yes, it’s that Ben -- Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s. In this animation he explains the defense budget with the help of a stack of Oreo cookies and shows how it compares with pressing social needs that could well use some of the money. He also contrasts it with the much smaller defense budgets of countries such as Russia and China.

It’s been out there for a while, but I just saw it for the first time. The link was sent to me by my friend Rick, who writes:
The oreo animation was clever and poignant. I wonder if we're a paranoid culture that thinks the world is out to get us, or are we just plain bullies? Imagine if that money was used for good instead of evil. Hmmm.
I wonder, too.

You’ll find the animation at TrueMajority, which was founded by Ben Cohen.
We started TrueMajority in order to compound the power of all those who believe in social justice, giving children a decent start in life, protecting the environment, and America working in cooperation with the world community.

If you want to be a part of this movement, just fill out the form in the upper right and we'll sign you up. The amazing part is that it only takes a few minutes a month and it's free. Here's how TrueMajority works:

We monitor what's going on in Washington based on the principles of peace, justice, and sustainability.

When your voice is needed, we send you a short e-mail alert that explains the situation, so you can speak up with just a few mouse clicks.

TrueMajority has already brought together over 500,000 of us, making us a powerful force in the capital.
Find out more about who they are here, and more about their principles here.

And before you leave, check out another neat short film, one involving BBs. It's Ben's demonstration on how crazy our nuclear stockpile has become -- and what the true cost of maintaining it really is.

Add prostate enlargement to the list of conditions prevented by a daily dose of aspirin -- or ASA

Score one more useful useful medical application for cheap, readily available aspirin, notes Canada's Globe & Mail:
Taking an Aspirin each day may help prevent an enlarged prostate, a common condition in aging males that makes it difficult to urinate. As a result of research published today one more condition could be added to a long list of diseases that the cheap, over-the-counter pill can help in terms, for example, of reducing the risk of developing heart disease, cancer and dementia.

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., say they have seen a "surprisingly strong level of association" between men who take a daily dose of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) -- which include ASA and ibuprofen -- and the prevention of an enlarged prostate gland, which often results in urinary symptoms.
So, what's the "ASA" stuff? Is that another drug? No, as Wikipedia notes, in countries like Canada where Aspirin is still trademarked, ASA stands for the generic name.
The brand name Aspirin was coined by the Bayer company of Germany. In some countries the name is used as a generic term for the drug rather than the manufacturer's trademark. In countries in which Aspirin remains a trademark, the initialism ASA (for acetylsalicylic acid) is used as a generic term (ASS in German-language countries, for Acetylsalicylsäure; AAS in Spanish- and Portuguese-language countries, for ácido acetilsalicílico and in French-language countries, for acide acétylsalicylique).

The name "aspirin" is composed of a- (from the acetyl group) -spir- (from the spiraea flower) and -in (a common ending for drugs at the time). It has also been known that the name originated by another means. "As" referring to AcetylSalicylic and "pir" in reference to one of the scientists who was able to isolate it in crystalline form, Raffaele Piria. Finally "in" due to the same reasons as stated above.

On March 6, 1899 Bayer registered it as a trademark. However, the German company lost the right to use the trademark in many countries as the Allies seized and resold its foreign assets after World War I. The right to use "Aspirin" in the United States (along with all other Bayer trademarks) was purchased from the U.S. government by Sterling Drug in 1918. Even before the patent for the drug expired in 1917, Bayer had been unable to stop competitors from copying the formula and using the name elsewhere, and so, with a flooded market, the public was unable to recognize "Aspirin" as coming from only one manufacturer. Sterling was subsequently unable to prevent "Aspirin" from being ruled a genericized trademark in a U.S. federal court in 1921. Sterling was ultimately acquired by Bayer in 1994, but this did not restore the U.S. trademark. Other countries (such as Canada and many countries in Europe) still consider "Aspirin" a protected trademark.
In this globalized world, it's so important to keep up with the latest trademark information. Just thought you'd like to know. That's why we're here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"A pure mind" -- reclusive Russian mathematician turns his back on honors and money, and the world wonders why

New York Times/Xianfeng David Gu and Shing-Tung Yau

Sorry, I just love this picture and can't resist linking to it again -- which I first did a couple of weeks ago in this post. It was mainly a pretext to show the picture and link to this New York Times story that used it as an illustration. The story tried to explain why the proof of "Poincaré’s conjecture" might prove to be the single greatest mathematical discovery of the 21st century.

The man who was, more than anyone, responsible for the feat was Grigory Perelman, a reclusive, brilliant Russian mathematician who lives alone in St. Petersburg with his mother -- although he also has worked in the U.S. and has corresponded with mathematicians around the world by email. Recently he stunned the world by turning down the Fields Medal, the highest honor in mathematics, which also comes with a $13,400 cash award. He left open the possibility that he might also turn down the really big bucks -- all or part of the $1 million The Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass has offered for the solution to the Poincaré’s conjecture.

Perelman -- a declared foe of politics in the field of mathematics --seemed to be saying that no one person should receive all the credit for proving a theorem, and that the proof itself should be gratification enough. George Johnson, the science correspondent of the Times, summed up the controversy recently.
Unlike Brando turning down an Academy Award or Sartre a Nobel Prize, Dr. Perelman didn’t appear to be making a political statement or trying to draw more attention to himself. It was not so much a medal that he was rejecting but the idea that in the search for nature’s secrets the discoverer is more important than the discovery.

“I do not think anything that I say can be of the slightest public interest,” he told a London newspaper, The Telegraph, instantly making himself more interesting. “I know that self-promotion happens a lot and if people want to do that, good luck to them, but I do not regard it as a positive thing.”

Mathematics is supposed to be a Wikipedia-like undertaking, with thousands of self-effacing scriveners quietly laboring over a great self-correcting text. But in any endeavor -- literature, art, science, theology -- a celebrity system develops and egos get in the way. Newton and Leibniz, not quite content with the thrill of discovering calculus, fought over who found it first.
In the New Yorker recently, Sylvia Nasar (author of a biography of mathematician John Forbes Nash, who was portrayed onscreen by Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind") and David Gruber set off in pursuit of Perelman and establish just how ego-driven an enterprise the world of higher mathematics really is. They eventually are able to speak briefly with Perelman in St. Petersburg.
We arranged to meet at ten the following morning on Nevsky Prospekt. From there, Perelman, dressed in a sports coat and loafers, took us on a four-hour walking tour of the city, commenting on every building and vista. After that, we all went to a vocal competition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which lasted for five hours. Perelman repeatedly said that he had retired from the mathematics community and no longer considered himself a professional mathematician. He mentioned a dispute that he had had years earlier with a collaborator over how to credit the author of a particular proof, and said that he was dismayed by the discipline’s lax ethics. “It is not people who break ethical standards who are regarded as aliens,” he said. “It is people like me who are isolated.” We asked him whether he had read Cao and Zhu’s paper. “It is not clear to me what new contribution did they make,” he said. “Apparently, Zhu did not quite understand the argument and reworked it.” As for Yau, Perelman said, “I can’t say I’m outraged. Other people do worse. Of course, there are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest.”

The prospect of being awarded a Fields Medal had forced him to make a complete break with his profession. “As long as I was not conspicuous, I had a choice,” Perelman explained. “Either to make some ugly thing -- a fuss about the math community’s lack of integrity -- “or, if I didn’t do this kind of thing, to be treated as a pet. Now, when I become a very conspicuous person, I cannot stay a pet and say nothing. That is why I had to quit.” We asked Perelman whether, by refusing the Fields and withdrawing from his profession, he was eliminating any possibility of influencing the discipline. “I am not a politician!” he replied, angrily. Perelman would not say whether his objection to awards extended to the Clay Institute’s million-dollar prize. “I’m not going to decide whether to accept the prize until it is offered,” he said.
The names Pereleman mentioned are other mathematicians who have worked on the problem -- and who might share in the Clay Institute prize when it is announced. (They include the two mathematicians who designed the rabbit diagram at the top of this post.)

Part of what makes Nasar and Gruber's article so fascinating is the way they sketch the relationships between all these contending mathematical egos -- exactly the situation Perelman seems to be trying to opt out of. They conclude by quoting another mathematician.
Mikhail Gromov, the Russian geometer, said that he understood Perelman’s logic: “To do great work, you have to have a pure mind. You can think only about the mathematics. Everything else is human weakness. Accepting prizes is showing weakness.” Others might view Perelman’s refusal to accept a Fields as arrogant, Gromov said, but his principles are admirable. “The ideal scientist does science and cares about nothing else,” he said. “He wants to live this ideal. Now, I don’t think he really lives on this ideal plane. But he wants to."

A flyover president and his broken promises

Mannie Garcia/Reuters

At just this hour a year ago, Katrina -- after its long buildup across the Gulf -- finally made landfall, and the slow death of New Orleans as we have known it began. I remember watching with T. that morning, glued to the TV screen, relief that New Orleans “dodged a bullet” turning to horror as an entire city was slowly flushed down the toilet by the rising waters. Even then, we had no idea of the true scope of the devastation.

We could not have imagined that morning that our government would just ignore a great American city in dire extremity; that on the third day of the tragedy, when the iconic photograph of our flyover president was taken, 3,000 people would be stranded at the convention center without food or water; that the next day Bush would say, "I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees;" that the day after that, Bush would say at his notorious photo-op with his FEMA director, "Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job;" and that the Louisiana Superdome would not be fully evacuated until the day after that. (For an even more comprehensive -- and damning -- chronology, see KATRINA TIMELINE at Think Progress.)

Last night, we watched Brian Williams and his anniversary coverage on NBC. I’m furious that all the suffering was allowed to happen through a combination of malign neglect, cronyism, ideological blinders -- and sheer, mind-numbing incompetence. My gut impulse is to rave and rant, but what good would that do?

Instead, let’s return for a moment to that flyover picture by Manny Garcia. That image, as well as different variants by the other photographers on the flight, were analyzed in this post by Michael Shaw last September at his invaluable BAG News Notes blog, where he combines a clinical psychologist’s insights with close photographic analysis of the images we receive through the media. I think the post and the related comments are worth another look now, for the light they throw on the posturing that took the place of action for our nation’s leadership at the time.
Finally, I cannot emphasized enough how absolutely staged these images are.

Of course, that might seem obvious upon making the statement -- especially if you share my politics. Because of the assuming nature of a photo, however (with its suggestion of reality and its emotional draw), it is always going to pull for acceptance of the spin.

On the other hand, it is much harder to take the President's posturing at face value when you can see evidence of the stage and the actor, one pose after another. At that point, you can see that this is simply a photo shoot, and the President, rather than being somebody at this critical moment, is trying to look like someone instead.
One thing the discussion makes clear is that Bush got a really good view outside his window of the destruction down below. He can’t say he didn’t know. And that makes the broken promises detailed by Paul Krugman yesterday all the more appalling. (Sorry, Times Select link -- registration required.)
Apologists for the administration will doubtless claim that blame for the lack of progress rests not with Mr. Bush, but with the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracies. That’s the great thing about being an antigovernment conservative: even when you fail at the task of governing, you can claim vindication for your ideology.

But bureaucracies don’t have to be this inefficient. The failure to get moving on reconstruction reflects lack of leadership at the top.

Mr. Bush could have moved quickly to turn his promises of reconstruction into reality. But he didn’t. As months dragged by with little sign of White House action, all urgency about developing a plan for reconstruction ebbed away.
What are the broken promises Krugman is talking about? Well, for openers, there’s this -- “although Congress allocated $17 billion to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for Katrina relief, primarily to provide cash assistance to homeowners, as of last week the department had spent only $100 million.”

For many Americans, although we're paying lip service to the anniversary now, Katrina is already long gone. It seems to be a national habit to forget the past and move on. History may not let us off that easily, however. "What's past is prologue," wrote Shakespeare, a man who knew a thing or two about callous, uncaring leaders. It's frightening that this guy has more than two years left in office, two more years to fly from here to there, posturing to his heart's content, while the country goes to hell.

Monday, August 28, 2006

"Joe Lieberman's Midlife Crisis"

That's the title of Willis Rodney's post in the satirical blog The Spoof! A sample:
Other Connecticut residents agree that Senator Lieberman's ever stranger behavior in the wake of his humiliating loss to political newcomer Ned Lamont last month is still, "vaguely interesting, mostly because it reminds me of my dad," says Sean Baybe, 23.

"Like, one day my dad comes home with a new Xbox 360 for himself. Dad, since when are you a gamer? And he's like, uh son, since forever? What a dork. Lieberman pretending a coke-snorting Yale jerkoff like George Bush actually cares about my friends who have died in Iraq is just lame. Ass kissing is pathetic. Then when Lieberman was on MTV trying to rap with Snoop and Busta, even though rap is like so dead. Dude! Like. You're old and a sellout and dying and stuff."
But satire can hardly keep up with the former Democrat and flipflopping Connecticut senator.
Lieberman said that he will continue to support the Democrats running for Congress even though they now support Lamont.

"It is a little bit harder, but I have endorsed the three of them," he said. Lieberman endorsed Joe Courtney over Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2, and Chris Murphy over Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-5. -- Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Post, 8/10/06
Fast forward two weeks:
Lieberman -- who after losing an Aug. 8 Democratic primary to Ned Lamont has launched a third-party bid to hold onto his seat in the Nov. 7 general election -- was asked whether he still endorses Diane Farrell, Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy, three Democrats looking to unseat endangered Republican incumbents Chris Shays, Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson.

“I’m a non-combatant,” Lieberman declared. “I am not going to be involved in other campaigns. I think it’s better if I just focus on my own race.”

Lieberman made the remarks at a Friday morning photo op held in the rain under an I-95 overpass in the Fair Haven neighborhood to tout his role in bringing $50 million to the state to help ease transportation gridlock.

"It's a little awkward for me now" to endorse the Democratic candidates in the general election, he said, "since they all endorsed my opponent," Democratic primary winner Ned Lamont. -- Joe Lieberman, New Haven Independent, 8/25/06
Really, all you can do is laugh. Adding to the laughter: Today, SEIU 32BJ -- "the largest property service workers union in the United States” -- becomes the first union that endorsed Lieberman in the primary to endorse Lamont in the general election. The wheels are falling off Lieberman's shiny red midlife crisis Campaignmobile.

And as more voters join the chorus of embarrassed laughter, his shrinking lead in the polls over Lamont should vanish altogether.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your Site Meter.

I like to check in every once in a while at Hugh Macleod's Gaping Void ("Cartoons Drawn on the back of Business Cards") to see what's going on, an irregular pattern that also happens to be the subject of his post titled "How Big Is Your Audience?"
I get asked a lot about how many people read my blog.

I have no idea. Because the answer, of course, depends on what metric you use. What stat counter you use. Anything between x-thousand and x-thousand-times-ten visitors per day, depending on which robot you wish to believe.

I tend to believe the lower figures more than the higher ones, but hey, that's just me.

But "How many people read your blog per day" is not the same thing as "How big is your audience."

Let me explain.

The number of blogs I read on a daily basis numbers about a dozen. The number of blogs I read every couple of days numbers about ten times that figure.

But the number of blogs I read regularly, just not that often, is way, way, way higher than that. Many thousands of them.
There's more. And, of course, there's the cartoon. He also links to a very funny Dave Weinberger post titled "No, I'm not keeping up with your blog."

Monday Sunrise Blogging

Photographic serendipity: In the interest of full photographic disclosure, I should explain that this is not really a sunrise, although it feels like a sunrise to me. The sun was setting spectacularly into hazy clouds when I was driving home the other night. I pulled over and clicked off a few shots with my Dimage X. Then I realized my white balance was still set to Tungsten from some indoor shots the night before. That's what gives the photo the strong blueish early morning, pre-dawn feeling. "Oh, shit!" I said, reset the color balance, and clicked off a few more shots. The results were gray, gloomy and forgettable.

8/31/06 UPDATE: Look who else is passing off a sunset picture as a sunrise.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Richard Avedon's legacy

Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery and Pace MacGill Gallery

“Scherzo di Follia, 1863-66,” by Pierre-Louis Pierson, was one of the last photographs acquired by Richard Avedon for his collection before he died in 2004. Selections from the collection will be shown for two weeks at Pace MacGill Gallery in New York starting Wednesday and at San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery starting Oct. 5, after which the collection will be sold to benefit the Avedon Foundation.

Philip Gefter writes in the New York Times -- "In Portraits by Others, a Look That Caught Avedon’s Eye" -- about Avedon’s collection and what it reveals about the art and artifice of Avedon’s own photographic imagination. The collection included works by modern photographers like Diane Arbus, Peter Hujar, and Irving Penn, among others, as well as earlier works by photographers that included Nadar, Julia Margaret Cameron, August Sander, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, as well as works by Pierson.
Not long before he died, Avedon bought 18 photographs of the Countess de Castiglione, mistress to Napoleon III, by Pierre-Louis Pierson, considered the most important collection of this series in private hands. Among them is one of the most famous portraits in the history of photography: “Scherzo di Follia, 1863-66” (“Game of Madness”). The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a later print, but Avedon’s is one of only two known early prints.

The Countess de Castiglione collaborated with Pierson to construct her many guises in the photographs, with wit, flair and a nod to the artifice of the creation, the same thing Avedon had done in his early fashion tableaus. In both his fashion work and his portraiture, Avedon explored the form of photography as much as the subject of his photographs.

“When I was a boy, my family took great care with our snapshots,” he wrote in “Richard Avedon: Portraits.” “We really planned them. We made compositions. We dressed up. We posed in front of expensive cars, homes that weren’t ours. We borrowed dogs. All the photographs in our family album were built on some kind of lie about who we were, and revealed a truth about who we wanted to be.”
All I know is, if we can’t get to New York before the show closes there, it’s off to San Francisco, for sure.

Does identifying Armitage as the original Plame-Novak leaker mean that all the furor was misplaced? Not exactly.

After Michael Isikoff revealed in Newsweek (citing the book "Hubris" that he co-wrote with David Corn) that Secretary of State Colin Powell's No. 2 Richard Armitage was the person who first gave Valerie Plame's name to journalist Robert Novak, there was some buzz in the blogosphere (although sometimes the whole leak case investigation seems to have taken place in another time and another galaxy, even though Scooter Libby hasn't even gone on trial yet).

Over on the right side of the aisle, there was a good deal of gleeful commentary that the entire case was coming apart as a result of the new revelation. Ann Althouse was quick to pontificate on how the left had overplayed its hand.
Can you never back off and say that your side overdid it? It would improve your credibility you know.
Not sure what she means by that. Does she think that Patrick Fitzgerald was hired by the left blogosphere? Or that he somehow serves as their agent? In any event, she counsels her readers to keep a sharp eye on those leftie spoilsports.
It will be interesting to see how the bloggers who were hot for blood over Plamegate will respond to this news. You can watch for who links to the Newsweek story at Memeorandum, here.
I took her advice -- and immediately found a link to a terrific Firedoglake post by Christy Hardin Smith I had already read -- "Something's missing...". Basically she says it's not over till it's over, and that plenty of questions remain for Fitzgerald to untangle. Sounds about right. I guess Althouse won't be seeing many lefty mea culpas just yet.

Are we in danger of sleepwalking into a global "surveillance society"?

This has been out there for a while, but it's still worth reading (and downloading): The International Federation of Journalists released a report last year detailing the erosion of our civil liberties in the worldwide war on terror, "Journalism, Civil Liberties and the War on Terrorism." [Download 2.35 MB PDF.] Among the findings:
The report, produced jointly by the IFJ and the civil liberties group Statewatch, says:

# Media and independent journalism suffer in a “pervasive atmosphere of paranoia” which is leading to dangerous levels of self-censorship
# Dissent inside and outside media is being restricted
# Fundamental rights to a fair trial are routinely violated
# Governments are covertly creating massive databanks for surveillance of their citizens
# New international rules are being agreed in a secret process of “policy laundering”

The report, which includes an analysis of current policy developments as well as a survey of some 20 selected countries, concludes that around half of the minimum standards set out in the Universal Declaration of on Human Rights are being undermined by the war on terrorism.

“An atmosphere of fear and uncertainty is being created and civil liberties are being torn to shreds, even in states with a reputation for tolerance and pluralism,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary at the launch of the report today. “World Press Freedom Day is the right moment to demand a return to transparency, open government and free expression for all.”

“Everyone agrees with steps taken to ensure public safety against terrorist attacks,” said Tony Bunyan, Statewatch Director. “But a lot of the measures brought in have little or nothing to do with combating terrorism. This report is an alarm call to democracies - in the name of the "politics of fear" we are in great danger of sleepwalking into a surveillance society and that democratic values we have taken for granted are being sacrificed in the ‘war on terrorism’”.
OK, that was 18 months ago. Can you think of ways the situation has gotten significantly better since then? Didn't think so. I can't, either.

UPDATE: These aren't just bleeding-heart, goodie-goodie liberal abstractions we're talking about here. Avedon Carol has a post about a couple of particularly nasty examples, one in California, and one in Pakistan relating to the alleged London airline plot.

UPDATE #2: Glenn Greenwald has more here, his bitterly sarcatic close leaving no doubt about where he stands:
But there's no need to worry. The Bush administration only intends to use these extraordinary, unchecked powers for your own good -- to protect you. That's why all of this yammering about the need for oversight or checks is just shrill paranoia. Placing blind trust and faith in the Goodness of our leaders to exercise powers against us in secret and with no oversight is the bedrock principle on which this country was founded. Only someone who hates this country could be against all of that.